Here’s the formula. When I travel for work, I look to see if I can grab a half or even full day on either side of my commitments for a walking and photographing adventure. If that’s a yes, then I immediately jump onto a mapping app to see what’s nearby. In some cases, such as Phoenix or Vegas, the opportunities are obvious. And close by. In others, it takes some research.
Recently, I was in San Diego and so my preparation research mostly pointed out seacoast possibilities. Photographically speaking, I much prefer deserts and so I scanned the map for something, anything… within an easy (few hour) drive of my business meeting location. To the northwest of San Diego lies Joshua Tree National Park, a spot I have always wanted to visit, though some have advised me that “there’s just not that much there worth seeing.” Yeah, I heard that once.
I didn’t have too many other options and so off to Twentynine Palms, California I headed. Expectations were not particularly high.
After a short few hours of sleep in a Rodeway Inn, I set out close to 5:00AM the next day with a map and rough route in mind. My goal was to do some hiking out into the wilderness, camera (in this case, a Fujifilm X-Pro2 and 14mm prime lens; I also had a 23mm f2 lens but that one saw much less action) in hand.
To my surprise and delight, I found there a diverse terrain with a nice variety of hikes, some with elevation and roughly graded, many fairly flat. The weather was pristine – warm and dry. I discovered a desert lake, established by cattlemen long ago, a “hidden valley” and joshua trees. Lots and lots of joshua trees. Oh, and some cholla cactus as well.
There were very few others in the park during my time there, which was refreshing as I sometimes find myself in long traffic jams getting through national parks and rows and rows of photographers lining up to take the iconic postcard shots. There was none of that at Joshua Tree.
It was a fantastic experience and it was liberating shooting with a small mirrorless camera and just two lenses. I attempted to limit my shots to just the ones I thought could be worth keeping rather than my typical run and gun style. That too was productive.
If I have another opportunity to travel out to Southern California, there’s little doubt that I’ll try to get out to Joshua Tree again. Recommended!